Punctuation Maps of Classic Novels (Medium)

This is one (actual, several) of the strangest literary projects I’ve come across in all my internet trawling: a study of punctuation in classic novels. If you’ve ever wondered what your favorite books look like stripped of words, well, here they are in their undergarments.

The author, one Adam Calhoun, looked at titles ranging from Great Expectations to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and found remarkable disparities in the use of commas, semi-colons, periods, and quotation marks. A Farewell to Arms is, of course, full of short, comma-less sentences and dialogue. Blood Meridian apparently tolerates only the period. And then there’s Absalom, Absalom!, Calhoun’s favorite book, for reasons we can only begin to diagnose.

In Calhoun’s own words:

Clearly, some authors are more okay with long, rambling sentences than others. William Faulkner looks at your short sentences and says nothing less than fuck you.

Calhoun lays out chart after chart to map punctuation use in increasingly interesting ways. Where it gets really weird, and especially beautiful, is in the final “heat map” section—also known as all of the classics rendered as sunsets.

Happy reading, and mapping, if that’s your thing.

Faulkner’s Mission in Life (and Death): Keeping Me on My Toes, Apparently

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Never let your reader’s guard down, folks. When you least expect it, literary surprises will arrive in your lap wrapped up in Christmas paper, or spring out of musical jack-in-the-boxes, or throw pebbles at your window in the dark of night. You may not even believe what you’re seeing when they emerge from the shadows, out of unprecedented horror or incredulous joy. But they’re everywhere, and they’re waiting for you.

I know. It happened to me.

Guys:

I just found out that Faulkner can write normal, coherent books like a normal, human writer.

I swear it’s true. I’ve seen it—I’ve read it—with my own two normal, coherent(?), human eyes. And if you don’t believe me, remember this is coming from a person who once suspected Faulkner’s collective literary output of being the result of his cat jumping on his typewriter.

It happened just this week. There I was, sitting on the couch all alone across from a sad homemade smoothie, when, at once, I heaved a sigh and turned to the first page of Light in August.

And then I read it.

And then I turned to the second page of Light in August.

And then I read that, too.

And then, I don’t even know how it happened, exactly, but one thing led to another, and within a handful of days I had read all 507 pages of Light in August.

Read and understood them.

WITHOUT SPARKNOTES.

Because, you see, Light in August is a normal, coherent book written by a normal, human writer for a normal, literate audience. It is not a battlefield of a book, like The Sound and the Fury. It is not a book that made 18-year-old me quake in my English Major boots, like Absalom, Absalom! It’s a treat, is what it is. Or, if not a treat, then, like, a yogurt. Interesting enough, when you’re in the mood for it.

I am still in shock, truth be told. At odd moments, I actually felt myself enjoying Light in August. I felt myself compelled to read on so I could find out what happened next. I felt myself invested in Lena, and Byron, and Rev. Hightower, and Joe Christmas’s individual and shared plight(s). I felt myself awed by Faulkner’s obvious talent.

All of this forces me to admit that I might have been wrong about Faulkner—might have judged him too soon. Yes, some of his books are roughly as intelligible as a word search read from left to right. Yes, some of his books reveal the inner workings of a sadist’s mind (all Southern decay, incest, and bootlegging). But that’s not all Faulkner’s (so-called) genius yielded in his 43-year career. Every sadist has a soft spot, and—knowing that I’m duty-bound to sweat through four of his novels—I think Faulkner just found one for me.

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It all—and by “all,” I mean the Challenge, and my sanity—hinges on As I Lay Dying, number four of four. If you’re listening, Faulkner, do me a solid and tone down the babbling nonsense you’re so famous for this one last time. Hit me with your best shot, but make it straight and true. Go easy on me—and I think we just might get along.